Lexus ES300h Limited vs Lexus ES350 2013 Review

Lexus ES300h Limited vs Lexus ES350 2013 Review



Let’s say you want a mid-sized Lexus sedan and you’ve got ninety-five grand burning a hole in your slacks. You could have a Lexus ES300h Limited or the more muscular ES350. Will you go for refinement and features or g-forces and noise?

lexus-es300h-2013-front-interiorThe hybrid ES300h comes with a 2.5-litre petrol engine producing 118kW plus the electric motor for a total output of 151kW, and it drinks fuel at a rate of 5.5l/100km on the combine cycle of highway and city driving. The petrol-only ES350 comes with a 3.5-litre petrol motor producing 204kW and drinks 9.5l/100km. In reality, despite the ES350 having so much more power (53kW), the 0-100kph times are 8.5s and 7.4s, so you don’t gain that much.

Both cars put the power through a CVT gearbox and to the road via the front wheels. The ES350 sounds much better, though…as good as an engine driving through a CVT gearbox can sound.

The ES300h features real wood on the instrument and shift panels and steering, except that it looks a little fake. Add the centrally mounted analogue clock and you’ve got a hint of 1970s Jaguar mixing it up with the modern instrumentation and black leather seats. I’m not sure it totally gels, but it is comfortable and the wooden steering wheel feels nice to touch on warm days.

lexus-es300h-2013-badgeContrast this with the ES350 and you’ll find a leather-covered steering wheel and a more standard black interior theme throughout. The ES300h Limited feels like it is aimed at an older generation than the livelier ES350.

The ES300h Limited comes with a number of safety features that are missing on the non-Limited versions, such as the Pre-Crash Safety System which turns the engine off, applies maximum braking power and pre-tensions the seatbelt. The ES350 (and ES350 Limited) also lack the Hill Start Assist Control that the hybrid versions get. Both vehicles get 10 airbags including knee protection for both driver and passenger. There are full length side curtain airbags, and the rear passengers also get airbags in the side of their seats. Traction control and the usual suite of antilock brakes and electronics that correct any loss of control will help rein potential disasters in.

lexus-es300h-2013-driving-modesWhen you sit in either Lexus you get a feeling that you are enveloped by the car, perhaps a little too much. I tried putting the seat higher so I felt like I could see over the dashboard better, but then I kept banging my head on the door frame when I got in the car. Seat comfort is excellent. Both the passengers I carried commented that it was very supportive. In the Limited the front seats are both heated and cooled, and as I drove this in summer, on the 27-degree day when the car had been sitting in the blazing sun for an hour, that seat cooler was very welcome.

The low seating position doesn’t hamper manoeuvring because there is a reversing camera with guidance lines for both parallel and perpendicular parking modes, and four parking sensors front and rear. A Blind Spot Warning system covers you when changing lanes, and both cars get dynamic radar cruise control which maintains a safe distance behind the car in front when you have cruise control activate.

Sun shades in the rear doors are standard only in the Limited, but both cars get an electric rear sunshade. The rear seat passengers have plenty of legroom, even in the hybrid where the battery pack sits behind the rear seats. In the Limited there is a separate aircon zone for the rear. Both cars have 490 litres of space in the boot. The large amount of space is because the Lexus is large for what is termed a ‘mid-sized sedan’. Go back 20 years and the ES series would be classed as a Leviathan. It’s 4.9m long and 1.9m wide and that is substantial – check it fits in your garage if you’re considering one. It’s longer (by 39mm) and wider (by over 100mm) than a 1994 Holden Commodore which was considered a large car in its day.

The driving experience is solid. The kerb weight of the ES300h is around 1700kg and the ES350 is around 40kg lighter, and you can feel it. This is a cruising car, not a light and lithe car you can flick around the back roads. Even though it does put in a good showing around the bends, you can’t argue (much) with the laws of physics and the Lexus comes into its own either in town (especially the hybrid version), or for long-distance highway journeys.

The ES350 supposedly has Variable Gear Ratio Steering which adjusts the steering ratio in accordance with vehicle speed, but I can’t say I actually noticed this.

There are three driving modes: normal, eco and sport. Sport sharpens the throttle response considerably and turns the instrument lighting an angry red. Eco turns the air-con down and prioritises use of the electric motor. You can also switch it to only run on the electric motor if you are in stop-start traffic, but try any level of moderate acceleration and the petrol motor will cut back in.

lexus-es350-2013-rear-quarterBoth cars get 17-inch alloys with 215/55R17 tyres. The exterior design on both models means that unless you are looking at the badge, you can’t tell which one is which, and this goes for most Lexus models as the brand design is very strong. In fact, on Lexus’s website, they show you the ES250 in some of the pictures and that model isn’t even available in New Zealand, and in the downloadable brochure for the ES350 it’s mostly about the ES450h and levels of specification not available here, either. This design creates a very slippery coefficient of friction of 0.27, which helps contribute to a better fuel economy figure.

The stereo is a Mark Levinson 15-speaker system and it sounds really good. It’ll connect to your Bluetooth phone for audio streaming and calling/answering calls, or you can plug in an iPod or other music device, or use the radio. The interface for the radio desperately needs updating as it is not user friendly. All options displayed on the screen are controlled by Lexus’s joystick/buttons combo which takes a little getting used to.

Which one should you buy? The ES300h Limited is by far the better deal. Sure, you get more power in the ES350, but it’s not that much more – 7.4s to 100kph vs 8.5s to 100kph. By purchasing the ES350 you’ll miss out on things like the cooled seats, Hill Start Assist Control, automated boot closing and other comfort items. The fuel economy is significantly better in the hybrid and this will save you potentially around $8-10 per 100km given the quoted fuel economy – perhaps around $1600-2000 per year if you do 20,000km per year.

So, in our opinion, for the money, the ES300h Limited is the one to go for. Or you could save up and spend $108,995 on the ES350 Limited

Price: $94,995

ES300h Limited


Lots of features
Media interface needs updating

Better performance

Fuel economy takes a hit
Media interface needs updating
Misses out on useful features.

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